St. Matthew 22:21b
November 15, 2009
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised and updated November 8, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
We’re beginning to wind our way down to the end of the Church year, when we begin to consider the last days—or the eschaton. In the coming weeks we’ll hear a lot about the coming of the Kingdom of God at the last day. But Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” (v 21b) remind us that God’s kingdom comes to us right now. And, in fact,
A Christian Is a Citizen of Two Kingdoms
the civil kingdom of earthly government and the heavenly kingdom of the Church. And we, as Christians, have duties in both kingdoms.
A person is a citizen in a civil kingdom or country by virtue of his birth. Even if your parents are from another country, if you were born in the United States, you’re a citizen of the United States.
Sometimes people decide to take up a new citizenship in another country or even to hold dual citizenship. But although they place themselves under a different government, they are still ultimately ruled by the Lord God, for He is King over all civil kingdoms, which He rules by His power and Law.
Now, we confess that the Lord is King of all creation, but it’s not as if you can go to Washington, D.C. and find Jesus sitting on a throne reading the Constitution of the United States of America. No, instead, the Lord God rules His civil kingdom by giving us earthly authorities to carry out His authority.
It is a great and wonderful gift from God when He gives godly and pious rulers, for they not only see to the protection of their citizens and promote their well-being, but they also vigorously guard and defend the proclamation of the Gospel and the practice of faith. But even when a heathen and unbeliever is given as a ruler, he also has authority from God to govern and protect the state. As St. Paul writes in Romans, ch. 13, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1).
The civil government also is God’s agent to punish the wicked. St. Paul continues, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13:3-4).
There is, however, a line of thinking that, when a person becomes a Christian, he is no longer subject to the demands of the government, but to God alone. That was the error of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. They weren’t fond of paying the taxes that Caesar had levied, so they wanted to get Jesus to start up the controversy by saying that they shouldn’t pay taxes, but give their tithes to God alone.
This also was an issue during the Reformation. A group known as the Anabaptists maintained that part of reforming the Church meant doing away with all earthly government. But our Churches confessed that the error of the Pharisees and the Anabaptists of forsaking government is a damnable error.
The name Christian does not revoke citizenship in the state. Our Church teaches very clearly that we have duties as citizens of the state: Read Small Catechism Table of Duties, Of Citizens. The only exception is when the rulers command you to disobey God’s Word, in which case, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b).
Even though the civil kingdom is God’s good gift to mankind, it has become corrupted on account of the sin of Adam. God runs the civil realm by His Law, but since the advent of sin, the Law always accuses and brings the curse of punishment. Instead of finding joy in living according to God’s Law, man’s nature is to find pleasure in breaking the Law, but at the same time fears the punishment that will inevitably come.
Because of the curse of sin, the earthly kingdoms are passing away. Great nations—from the Greeks to the Mayans—have fallen throughout history. There will also come a day when all kingdoms will come to an end when the Lord Jesus returns to judge the earth.
While we are citizens of an earthly kingdom according to life and work, St. Paul reminds us in the Epistle that, in the realm of faith, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). And just as we are citizens of an earthly nation by virtue of our births, so likewise are we citizens of the heavenly kingdom by virtue of the new birth through the waters of Holy Baptism.
The Lord God is not only the King of all creation generally, but He has also established a particular kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world—though it is found within the world. In this kingdom He rules in a way that is fundamentally different from every other kingdom—He rules by grace, not Law and punishment.
Where the civil kingdom was established at creation when God gave Adam dominion over the earth, the Kingdom of Grace was established on the cross. Hers is a King who wears a crown, not of gold and jewels, but of thorns. Hers is King who is robed in purple, and mocked and stripped. Hers is a King who is lifted up on a majestic throne, but who is lifted up on a beam of wood. This kingdom is a kingdom of the cross, of sacrifice, of love.
This kingdom is built up by God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments. Thus, it’s a hidden kingdom—hidden from our eyes under earthly means of words and water, bread and wine, but made known to Her citizens by faith.
Just as the Lord God gives earthly rulers to carry out His authority, so also does He rule in His Kingdom of Grace by giving pastors to carry out the authority of the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of your sins.
This kingdom is not run by power and punishment, but by humility and grace. Therefore, there are no rights in this kingdom—only gifts. There is no punishment—only mercy. There is no life lived to self—but lives lived out in love and service to others.
Just as a Christian has duties in the civil realm—to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”—he also has duties in this heavenly kingdom—to “render to God the things that are God’s.”
The first and foremost duty of a Christian in God’s kingdom is to render unto Him open ears, open mouths, and open hearts to receive the Gospel in Word, in Sacrament, and in faith. For to live in a Kingdom of Grace means to receive the gifts of grace.
But the duties of a citizen of God’s kingdom aren’t merely passive. In response to all His benefits to us, we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord in prayer. We take up the cup of salvation, in which is found the blood of Christ and make our vows in the presence of His people, in the midst of Jerusalem by confessing our faith.
It is also the duty of a Christian to support the work of the Gospel with his money. For even though the Church is not of the world, it is in the world, and money is what gets things done in the world. The Table of Duties in the Small Catechism also lists five verses for “What Hearers Owe Their Pastors.” The first three have to do with money. Read Small Catechism Table of Duties, What Hearers Owe Their Pastors.
In the Old Testament, God commanded that a tithe—or ten percent—be given to the work of the Gospel. In the New Testament, a tithe is the beginning. If you are not currently giving ten percent of what you are earning toward the work of the Gospel, then work toward that goal. If you already are giving a tithe of your net income, consider rendering unto God before you render unto Caesar and give a tithe of your gross income, before taxes. You may also find that you’re able to give twelve percent very easily and joyfully.
The work of God’s Kingdom will go on among the kingdoms of this world, but one day, it too will come to an end. For now we perceive the realities of God’s kingdom here on earth not be sight or senses, but by faith through the Word of God. But when our Lord Jesus Christ returns again in judgment and puts an end to all earthly kingdoms, He will also put an end to the Kingdom of Grace—at least as we know it.
For then we will see His Kingdom in full glory. What we will have known by faith, we will then know by sight. There will be no more distinction between God’s civil kingdom and His heavenly kingdom, for they will be one. Then, by His grace, we will gladly and joyfully live according to His Law as His own forever.
In the name of + Jesus.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard